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  • Writer's pictureMartha Hartney

The Price of Ecstacy

Last night I went to two holiday parties--coming home feeling judgmental about all the alcohol consumed and sitting down this morning to write another post about my growing distaste for our booze culture.

But something else is emerging for me as I sit and stew in my judgment.

I watched last night how I could not connect to the folks who were drinking. I couldn't have the depth and frequency of conversation I want to have. But the people who were drinking were connecting to each other quite well. They were on the same frequency and I was on a different one. Not better, just different.

Alcohol has the medicine of removing barriers, reducing insecurities, anxiety, and inhibitions that keep us from connecting to each other. "Spirits" allow people to have a shared experience of deeper connection to themselves and to each other--which is the very definition of the "ecstatic" state of consciousness.

Humans, some have said, are hard-wired for the ecstatic experience. We need it. We must have it. The ecstatic state helps us make meaning out of our existence. It plugs us into the fabric of all being, allowing us to feel the texture of what it means to be alive and in a body.

We pursue ecstasy like bloodhounds. We get a whiff of it and without hardly any conscious thought, set off each day to track it and hope like hell that we'll get some taste of it by the time our heads hit the pillow at night.

The ecstatic state, in community, is possibly the most enlivening state we can achieve. In it, we feel our belonging, we have a brief glimpse of our transcendent essence and how we fit together in the glorious warp and weft of "is-ness".

If we look closely, we're chasing that experience every moment of every day. In our religious expression through shared prayer or meditation. In our work lives through feelings of purpose and loyalty to our companies and their "culture". In our families, through all the ways we nurture cohesiveness in the family dynamic and culture. In our politics, through the fomenting of aroused states of indignance and righteousness.

In our deep need for the shared ecstatic experience, though, there have been massive costs--to our individuality, to our society, to our institutions--because each of these shared realities has demanded or exacted something from us in order to be "part of".

With our culture of alcohol, the costs are apparent. Alcoholism, violence, vehicular harm, addiction, poor health, increased morbidity that take an enormous toll on our country financially, emotionally, and spiritually.

The shared religious experience has, traditionally, required community members to adhere to a very strict creed or code they may not fully and truly believe in--subsuming the evolution of their individual beliefs to the institution and its leaders. The cost is an immense loss of liberty and contribution to the marketplace of ideas.

Family cohesiveness as the ecstatic experience often generates neuroses, psychoses, PTSD, and further addictions as older family members force upon younger generations their one and true way of living.

Even the #MAGA movement in America is this shared ecstatic experience among people of this particular mindset. The chanting done at Trump rallies induces a state of ecstasy in which his followers begin to resonate even more deeply with one another and with him--making it easier for whatever he says to become embedded into their open, absorbing minds. (I'm sure there are examples on the left as well, I just don't have any ready in hand).

In a way, we're all addicts to the ecstatic experience. What differentiates us is the mode of experience we choose and the prices we pay for it.

I made the choice two years ago to stop paying the price for the ecstatic experience of alcohol. Yet, I still seek that experience through prayer, meditation, ritual, music, dance, healing circles, public speaking, and writing. Even writing this, I notice my desire to nourish a shared "yes, I recognize that in me too" experience between the reader and me.

The ecstatic state is a very suggestible and vulnerable state. It's one we should take great care of ourselves in. When we seek to bring down the barriers within and between us, we let in things, energies, ideas, and beliefs deeper into the subconscious with less filtering by the neocortex. It has been weaponized by unscrupulous politicians, clergy and religious leaders to overbear the will of others without their knowledge. Anyone who is leading a shared ecstatic experience can misuse it. All of us, in our seeking the shared ecstatic experience, can allow it to become feral and destructive.

Ecstasy can be a beautiful gateway to higher frequencies of being and knowing. It can be a path toward more creativity, connection, deeper care, and truth. But...we must guard our ecstatic experiences with immense care.

The ecstatic state is a deep, abiding need in us. It's not going anywhere. It is a drive unique to our complex spirits and a gateway to higher awareness. The truth-seeker within, the divine child wandering and wondering about the world it finds itself in. From this vantage point, may we move through our holiday season, with a little deeper gaze into what we are wishing to feel, see, taste, know and modes and methods we choose to be closer to one another and to ourselves.

Let's make sure we're really willing to pay the price of the ways we have done it in the past and open our awareness to new ways of connecting to one another and to ourselves.

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